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Dry eye syndrome (known medically as keratoconjunctivitis sicca) is a common condition among many people that is more serious than the condition implies. It affects young adults and the elderly alike. It is a problem that may become more prevalent in the near future, as more people use computers frequently and as contact lens usage and LASIK surgeries become more widespread.
The eye’s most superficial layer is not the cornea; it is actually the tear film. The tear film serves many functions in the human eye. It acts as a protective layer by washing dirt and other contaminants away. The tear film also keeps the cornea hydrated and clear, preventing the eye from drying out. Last, the tear film acts as a refractive medium, which contributes towards useful vision. Dry eye syndrome is caused by deficient tear production or abnormal tear production in the eye. If there are not enough tears on the tear film, or the quality of the tears is poor, then a person’s eye will quickly become symptomatic.
Symptoms of dry eyes include itchiness, scratchiness, and a foreign body sensation in the eyes. The eyes may feel gritty as well. In addition, intermittent visual blurriness and impairment is common; this is due to the abnormal tear film refracting light improperly (think of a car windshield that is not uniformly wet throughout its surface). Despite its name, dry eyes can also cause excessive tearing as well. This is due to the eyes reflexively making more tears to hydrate the eye. However, these reflexively-made tears are of poorer quality and evaporate quickly, causing a quick return to eye dryness. Eyes may also turn red and irritated as a result of dryness.
There are numerous treatment options available for people suffering from dry eye. Some are as simple as periodically using an artificial tear to help the eye maintain proper lubrication. Other treatment options include prescription drops, omega 3 supplements, and tear duct plugs. For proper treatment, you should see an optometrist for a comprehensive eye evaluation. A good eye exam will reveal if dry eyes are causing your problems, and if they are, your optometrist will help manage your dry eyes in an optimal manner.